Footprints in the Sand

There wasn’t much time in Skye for walking, but I did have a few spare hours midweek when we were granted a rest from language learning.

Not wanting to waste time in the car, I headed south for a few miles, then walked to the edge – always these edges!
It was warm enough to paddle, just.

When I stopped to dry off my feet, I turned back to look at the water, and watched my footsteps, returning to the sea.

Return Crossing

red fishing boat
snow on the Cuillin

No tea room, but the hum of conversation of men in the back, their jackets luminous, waiting on the ferry. A line of gulls on the harbour wall, and one high above, circling. An engine hums. Diesel drifts across the stillness, a chain turning as the crane lifts and lowers, the trundle of a coach down the hill.

A fishing boat chugs into harbour, rippling.

Across the water, the ferry starts its return, snow still on the peaks, and the distant keening of gulls.

Mallaig, May 2014

The Look of Home

I move house later this week.

This will be the 13th house I’ve lived in, the 13th place I’ve called home, in the last 27 years.

Yes, that’s a lot. And yes, that’s tiring.

I’ve moved for all sorts of reasons: for love, for heartbreak, for jobs, for security, to be in Scotland, to be by a river, for love, to live surrounded by birds, to cross the highland line, for family, for love.

Running through these many moves has been a quest, a wish to know where home was, and how it looked.  But the older I get, and the more tired I get of moving, the less I think that really matters.

I was in Skye at the weekend for a flying visit, an intensive two days of Gaelic.

(Yes, of course, if you’re intensely busy with a move, the best thing to do is to add something absurd on top of it ;-))

seagull on a car roof, mallaig

Whenever I go to Skye, I feel a sense of coming home.

crossing to armadale

It is the ultimate place for me. I know in part because I measure other places up against it.

A rocky hill in the Burren grabs my heart because it reminds me of the north end of Skye.

I turn a bend in the road on Barra and whisper: you can see Skye from here.

It’s something to do with my family history, with the otherness of the island, with the serrated edges of the skyline, with the light, with the language.

It defies analysis, simply always is for me and always has been so.

cuillin from sleite

But, for a whole host of reasons, I do not wish to live on Skye.

I simply need to go there sometimes. I need to know that it is there.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W B Yeats. (It’s very lovely, and if you don’t know it, you can find it here.) The last section of the poem reminds me that you can connect back to your home through imagination, or remembrance.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Perhaps the house you live in is only one sort of home.

You can connect to home, whatever that is for you, through things that you read, and things that you write.

I think you can feel at home through language. When I hear Gaelic spoken, when I make a burst of progress and speak Gaelic with some fluency myself, I feel something slot into place inside me, untwisting, relaxing, a feeling that all is well.

Sometimes the song of a bird is enough to connect and remind you. The sudden rush of familiarity, in an unfamiliar place.

And so I move this time with simpler expectations: about the friendliness of a house; about being closer to work, and things that are going on, and people who matter; about still being in Scotland (for those of you who have worriedly asked!); about being two hours closer to the highlands; about being able to walk to a shop (rather than driving five miles to get there); and about taking with me all that I have learnt thus far.

stepping out
from my new front door –
the song of a blackbird

An Evening Walk at Tarskavaig

There’s an hour before the sun goes down. A cloudy evening but from the shore at Tarskavaig I know the light will fade against the backdrop of the Cuillins, with Rum stretching out on the horizon. It’s a fifteen minute drive, the narrow road up over the moor, no other traffic tonight, pausing only in a passing place to watch the way the light moves shades of brown on the lochan, the dot of lambs on winter-brown grass, a touch of snow on the peaks.

A small crossroads at the township, and a red phone box marks the way to the car park. Beyond the deer-gate, a path leads up over the moor, ten minutes to the bay. Swallows swoop overhead.

picking my way –
a sheep’s track
so many primroses

dusk falling…
the sound of the water
pulls on shingle

to the west
a makeshift bench…
Atlantic driftwood

barely a ripple
across the bay
a cuckoo calls

fading light –
lichen on the black rocks
a splash of sea thrift

The stillness of this soft Skye air – already the midges! Almost dark now, I make my way back up the hill, the images still playing: the blue of the sea melding into blue of the sky, only the deepest blue of Rum, its peaks a jagged echo of the Cuillins, marking the horizon.

Even in the fading light, it’s an easy path back, the red breast of a robin marking the deer fence at the end of the open moor. I pause at the door of the car. The song of a blackbird fills the evening air, perched in an oak tree that’s been bent almost double with the wind.

The road hugs the coast before the steep climb back to Kilbeg. Ahead of the final turn, the wideness of the bay at Achnachloiche and I pull over for a minute to watch the last of the evening light, fading fast now behind the dark mass of the Cuillins.

twilight on water
a line of oystercatchers
suddenly rising

The Impetuous Tide

Flow is something I’d generally claim to aspire to: in my creative work, in my life.

When I was in Skye a few weeks back I experienced a different kind of flow.

Standing on the shores at Talisker I found myself both looking out to sea, as the waves were crashing, while the black sands beneath us were shifting, cracking, dissolving  in the current of the river: pouring, coursing, cutting. Continue reading “The Impetuous Tide”

The Consolation of Patterns and Shapes

Wave patterns on the black sand shore:

Wave Patterns IV

deep consolation, and a sense of home.

Wave Patterns III

Images, patterns and shapes found at the black sand shores of Talisker.

The words are inspired by a passage found in Anam Cara by John O’Donohue, a book I was reading on Skye. (I love the way reading and landscapes merge together like this at times when we’re travelling.)

The human eye adores gazing; it feasts on the wild beauty of new landscapes, the dignity of trees. The eye is always drawn to the shape of a thing. It finds some deep consolation and sense of home in special shapes.

This makes me see photography in a whole different light, understanding the pleasure that comes from that gazing.

It allows me to make better sense of that feeling of connectedness and home that is found in certain places.

Lost in the Mist

“We need a light which has retained its kinship with the darkness.”
“The light in Celtic consciousness is a penumbral light.”

(Two quotes from John O’Donohue’s book, Anam Cara.)

Out of three days in Skye we had one day of gorgeous autumn sunshine, where the only conclusion you could reach was that this was the most beautiful, glorious place on earth; one of torrential rain, where you could pretty much only conclude the opposite; and one of low mist, where it was only by ducking down to the shore, down from the moorlands and hilltops that you could see what was there to be seen.

(A weather pattern that is pretty much par for the course on the island, but that’s a whole other story.)

Seeing a place like Talisker in the mist was a new experience for me – previously I’d headed for the beach on warm and sunny days, to take advantage of the flat black rocks and the chance for a dip in the sea (yes, it is possible, some days!) but this time I was set on standing by the sea and reading some out loud poetry.

And the mist, of course, revealed the spirit of the place in a totally different light.

The misty day wove together with the words I’d been reading about this dark/light feature of the Celtic consciousness, and the value of obliqueness (in our gaze, in our writing, in our kindness, in our friendship) that Donohue captures so beautifully in the book.

It took me to this journal entry that I thought I’d share with you here.


how would it be to allow for knowing
and not knowing:
allowing room
for the mystery
of creating
to be able to wonder
without needing to understand everything
to trust in the process
to trust in love
to trust in the mystery and wonder
of the universe
that beats softly wildly
all round about us,
that is hidden
in the mists
in the clouds and the rain
in the wind blowing and the rain lashing down on your window,
reminding you
that this is where you are,
on the island,
at the edge,
in a place of finding
and refinding,
and remembering
to remember
the feel of the mist, wind and rain.


Something I guess we’re always needing reminders to remember.

This is another post in the Skye series. Last post tomorrow.

PS In case you, like me, need to check the definition of penumbral, here it is:

1. A partial shadow, as in an eclipse, between regions of complete shadow and complete illumination.
2. The grayish outer part of a sunspot.
3. An area in which something exists to a lesser or uncertain degree:

Forever Returning

poetry is the mist, draped softly on the Tables
poetry is the water, dancing in Glen Hinnisdal, and the laughter of the children in remembered swimming there
poetry is the arc of the bridge and the knowledge of returning
poetry is the echoed words of Sorley, crashing on the black sand shore
poetry is the hard dark rock of the Cuillin, the sharp serrated edge of her skyline
poetry is the invocation of the bog myrtle, crushed against your finger tips
poetry is bog cotton, laughing in the breeze
poetry is the wind on the moorland, the kiss of spirit freedom
poetry is the light, glinting on the water as the road turns down to Gesto and a thousand silent worships and a thousand tears of home
poetry is the island, lost in mist, and illumined with the perfect clarity of a winter sunshine day
poetry is truth
poetry is mystery
poetry is love and impossible gratitude
poetry is the island,
and I am forever returning.